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The Impact of the Proficiency Scale
Dec. 13, 2022
Amanda Li, Grade 10

BC’s new curriculum has been moving towards a 4-point proficiency scale, assessing assignments based on a progressive description rather than traditional letter grades alone. However, many students have described their distaste for this new feedback method.

In 2019, the BC Ministry of Education proposed a new student reporting method - the proficiency scale. It reflects the strengths of students and areas in need of improvement by providing more detailed insight into personal learning and development. The scale is opposed to the long-established system of letter grades, which narrow a student’s level of understanding into a single descriptive word such as “excellent” or “good.”

Although the proficiency scale is designed to be equivalent to a letter grade, this comparison, according to students, may vary depending on the teacher. This variance could mean two students demonstrate a similar understanding of a particular course but have different grade outcomes due to varying expectations from their teacher.

Furthermore, students are unaccustomed to this change due to media portrayal of academic performance. Common stereotypes are those such as being a “straight-A student” or “the overachiever,” resulting in pressure to be what the world around them defines as a “perfect student.” Because the media uses letter grades to reflect examples of academic excellence, this strongly affects students’ attitudes toward a change in overall grading methods.

Despite the negativity, many students support this new feedback system. Several students responded positively, saying the proficiency scale “prevents the comparison of grades” and promotes a growth mindset. The four levels (emerging, developing, proficient, extending) of the scale are meant to promote goal setting and give options for creating an action plan. However, students still find themselves fighting to achieve a specific letter grade, which correlates to the constant competition between students. As report cards are coming out, many will find themselves wondering, “why can’t I be as smart as they are,” a comparative mindset that leads to students vying to achieve a higher letter grade simply for the purpose of fitting in with their classmates rather than focusing on self-improvement. On the other hand, students who prefer proficiency scale grading reported that it “helped them see the progress they’ve made” and encouraged them to construct an action plan to progress to the next level.

Whether it’s a “B” in physics or an “extending” in math, at the end of the day, they are simply letters on a piece of paper. Neither can be a perfect definition of how well a student has mastered a given subject area. When it comes down to it, both grading systems can improve academic performance if you approach them with the right mindset.